Coronavirus Disease: The Unpredictable. The Unthinkable Impacts.

The whole world is groaning under the impact of the rapid spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19), which has struck and continued to strike several countries of the world, with unquantifiable attendant consequences in human, material and financial losses. For instance, the paralysis of air traffic, the shutdown of tourism activities in almost all markets and destinations, the disruption of supply chains and the labour markets around the world have a resounding negative impact on production and consumption, and on global economic growth in 2020, and even in 2021, and may inevitably lead to an even deeper recession than the one caused by the 2008 financial crisis.

Most economies and businesses worldwide were totally unprepared for such a cataclysmic disruption. It is quite possible that some organisations had plans to deal with crises that might arise in relation to public opinion or customer behaviour, or to deal with a legal situation or a crisis of confidence in the brand, etc but it is not possible that anyone one of them had imagined a generalized and/or a large paralysis of world economy everywhere and at the same time.

Today, Coronavirus is shaking up business and consumer behaviours on a massive scale.  While companies often have contingency plans, which revolve around ramping up production in a region that is not impacted, the rapid spread of the coronavirus across the globe makes it very difficult to pinpoint which regions would be least affected. As a result, both the public and private sectors are scrambling to slow the spread and contain the impacts. While the full economic consequences of this black swan event are still unclear, what is obvious is the fact that the drastic measures taken to contain it are already precipitating change across nations and businesses.

The outbreak has created a global health crisis that has had a deep impact on how the people perceive the world and everyday life. Not only the rate of contagion and patterns of transmission threatens lives and ways of doing things, but the safety measures put in place to contain the spread of the virus, which includes social distancing, refrains individuals from doing what is inherently human. Therefore, as the pandemic spreads around the world, it is increasingly clear that culture matters when it comes to the coronavirus. Cultures also vary in the extent to which they accept uncertainty. It is a question, not only of an individual or collective perspective, but also of a long-term versus a short-term orientation. Today, the coronavirus has managed to do what all product demos, ad campaigns, and sales pitches could not do; it has forced businesses to actually shift their corporate cultures by having unprecedented online engagements, so that people can still collaborate and be productive at a time when commuting to the office and physical meetings are no longer options.

All these came into sharp focus with the advent of a pandemic like the coronavirus. Now, with several countries across the globe on lockdown, people and businesses everywhere have to deal with a work reality that not only moves beyond physical location, but also makes physical location a real constraint. Corporates are now rethinking the balance between "the work we do alone" and "the work we do together.

With the ugly dawn of the workspace devolution occasioned by the outbreak of coronavirus, it has revealed some truth that ‘the work we do alone appears to be more important than the work we do together. This means that with the advent of this newly-forced decentralization of knowledge work, organisations must rethink how they design workspaces. This is a clarion call to embrace what is available for the good of organisations and their employees. What is possible may have outstripped what is comfortable, but this polarity may have to flip if organisations are to keep their employees healthy, happy, and productive. Today, online alternatives have helped to limit the fallout from canceled conferences and meetings.

As the business impact of the COVID-19 crisis increases, leaders in every industry are moving urgently to protect employees and build resilience. Governments are mobilizing to safeguard citizens and manage the economic fallout. Immediate action is critical, but leaders must also embrace a new agenda - one aimed squarely at what comes next. Now more than ever before, business and government have a crucial role to play in protecting people’s health, bolstering the economy, and developing both practical solutions and game-changing innovations.

No doubt, the COVID-19 pandemic is a wake-up call to policy makers, as the unusual and unprecedented nature of the crisis has made it impossible for citizens to rely on foreign healthcare services and more difficult to solicit for international support given the competing demand for medical supplies and equipment. A more integrated response spanning several sectors—including the health, finance, IT and trade sectors—is required to address structural issues that make Nigeria less resilient to shocks and limit its range of policy responses. In the long term, tougher decisions need to be made, including but not limited to diversifying the country’s revenue base away from oil exports and improving investments in the health care sector in ensuring that the economy is able to recover quickly from difficult conditions in the future. And the time to act is now.

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Bamidele Alimi, M.IoD

Director General/CEO